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Third Wave Coffee vs. Gourmet Coffee vs. Specialty Coffee

Best Coffee Boston

There are a lot of terms being thrown around in the coffee world, many of which are confusing. For those still trying to get their bearings we’re hoping this general overview will help you better navigate the Boston coffee scene. Keep in mind, larger brands often use certain terms for marketing purposes, but with a better understanding of what differentiates several types of coffee from each other, hopefully you can ensure you get the best coffee in Boston and not some well-marketed imposter.

  1. Gourmet coffee – While this term doesn’t necessarily have a strict definition, it does have a generally perceived connotation. This term is often used for marketing terms more than as a way to classify coffee quality. As a rule of thumb, gourmet coffee typically has the following characteristics:
    • Heavily flavored
    • A defined shelf-life
    • Grown in very large farms (many of which are in Brazil)
  1. Specialty Coffee – First coined by Erna Knutsen in 1974, this term was originally used to differentiate a selection of coffees from the larger “gourmet coffee” term. Specialty Coffee often embodies the following characteristics:
    • Rated 80 points or higher on the 100-point coffee grading scale
    • Quality and standards monitored by the Specialty Coffee Associations of America (specific to specialty coffee)
  1. Third Wave Coffee – Referring to the smallest portion of specialty coffee, it defines a group of roasters, consumers and cafes (such as Boston’s own Thinking Cup) that perceive the process of growing, roasting, brewing and drinking coffee as more of an artisanal endeavor. To this group, coffee is much more than a brown, caffeinated drink served at drive-thru windows across the country. Third Wave Coffee typically boasts the following characteristics:
    • Sourced from small farms
    • Single source origin
    • Lighter roasts
    • Emphasis on fresh consumption of beans
    • Roasted in a way so as to highlight original characteristics
    • Brewed to produce the best final effect

Hopefully this has shed some light on some of the most common coffee terms currently being used. For a truly great cup of Third Wave Coffee, head to any of Thinking Cup’s three Boston cafes to experience some of the best coffee Boston has to offer.

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